so you think you can teach?

Contrary to what you might think ("Oh, you can just show up, people watch you do your thing and you take their money...") a great workshop actually takes a lot of detailed planning to ensure that everything from the content and slideshows to the catering and location are taken care of.  While every workshop is different, there are certain elements which carry across the board from one to the next.  I'm going share with you some of how to make your burning desire to teach translate into a valuable learning experience.  I'll use the example of a "couples posing workshop" as my example but y'all are bright kids and can translate this into teaching about babies, Photoshop, riding a unicycle, making origami chickens, whatever...

I'm going to put a shameless plug in here and say that I am for hire whether you would like to start teaching a workshop on photography or fire eating.  I will not only help you develop your workshop but will assist with everything from getting the catering and swag bags prepared to ensuring that you have all the necessary releases, permits, licenses and visas required to safely and legally run your workshop.  Additionally, I will sit down with you and go over your course one step at a time to ensure that your content is relevant, interesting, and thorough from a consumer standpoint.  I can assist you with identifying your target market and developing your marketing campaign and materials, and lastly, look after collecting exit interviews/service surveys.  Call me.  ;)  But I digress...

Who will buy it?
Unlike the field of dreams, just because you build a workshop doesn't mean people will come.  The first step you need to take is determining if there is even a market for whatever you are teaching.  Ask yourself: If the information is available for free online, why would people pay for it?  is someone else teaching this already, and if yes, when? where? what am I offering that's unique? what are other people charging for similar workshops?  if one doesn't exist, are people actually interested?  You need to spend some time understanding who your market is - do they expect you to have a formal education?  X number years of experience?  How much do they have to spend on professional development and what does that say about who they cater to as clientele?  If you do not have a clue about who you are selling to, you may waste your time researching and writing a workshop that no one will actually pay to attend because it's too obscure, too expensive, too common, etc.

Who will sell it?
It's entirely up to you whether to sell on your own or partner up with a presenter, facility, or host.
If you decide to host your own workshop, do you have the resources required to promote yourself?  Are you able to manage all marketing, sales and registrations?  Can you afford the risk of not working with a local organizer or host, especially if you are presenting someplace not in your own area?  If you are invited to teach and do not already have a contract that you use, you will need to define your expectations for the host/facility - are they handling all the marketing, sales and finances and paying you a fee regardless of how many people attend?  Or are you paying a rental fee?  A percentage of your gross sales?  Will you allow one or more representatives of the hosting organization to attend at a reduced or no cost?  If the host is taking a percentage or charging a per-participant fee, is their cut representative of the amount of work they are doing to facilitate or develop the workshop or would your profit margin be greater by just paying for your own rental facility and selling on your own?

Be the student.  ALWAYS.
If ever you have been to any kind of class, it shouldn't be too difficult to step into the shoes of a participant.  Doing this allows you to design the type of workshop experience you'd like to create, whether it's low-key and practical or frou-frou and elite.  Consider: Is it a catered event or do people bring/buy their own food?  Is the catering pizza and beer or crumpets with tea in real teacups? Would my subject be best learned in a classroom with computers or in a farmer's field?  Or both?  Does it need to be taught in a big city or can it work in a smaller centre, and how will travel needs affect my willingness and ability to attend?  If I'm in a computer intense workshop or a workshop with live models, what size of group will allow me as a participant to maximize my learning?  What topics are covered and are they relevant to my own business and creative goals?  Considering things like this will help you determine what your hard costs are going to be which in turn will affect how you set your pricing.  Remember that the type of experience you offer should be reflected in your pricing - you cannot expect people to pay top dollar for a workshop held in a cramped space with take-out pizza served on disposable plates any more than you can expect to make money off a workshop priced affordably but held in a 5-star hotel with lobster tails served on antique china for lunch.

Where and when.
Let's assume you have determined that you need a large room that will accommodate up to 50 people at tables that is located within walking distance of a park or green space.  You know that you need 2 full days to cover your material and that between May and September a good portion of your target market reserves Saturdays for shooting weddings and Sundays for recovering but that most of them probably have day jobs that would prevent them from attending a weekday event.  Traveling in the dead of winter in Alberta is unpleasant as is shooting outdoors.  Wedding season starts up in May, so you decide on doing an April workshop so all your content is fresh and relevant.  That means to allow 10+ weeks of lead time will have you selling the snot out of your workshop by no later than the middle of January.

Calculate your expenses and hard costs.
Let's say you've decided to skip the host and throw a DIY deal.  You've found an upscale banquet hall in a central area with a full weekend available in mid-April that doesn't conflict with Easter or Spring Break.  You decide against full catering to keep costs down, but want to serve coffee, tea, and bottled water - don't forget to budget for creamer, filters, stir sticks, and sugar. You decide that instead of making everyone work with just one model, you are bringing in 4.  You may need to pay your models, HMUAs, and possibly costume purchases/rentals plus items for your styled shoot if you cannot get them sponsored.  You may need to consider hotel costs if they are traveling.  If you are just doing a straight up information/lecture session, you may only need to have some photocopied handouts or even just email a PDF afterwards which cost next to nothing, but if you are holding a more elite event, chances are good you should consider proper printed materials as well as putting together swag bags or prize draws, which you can try to have sponsored but you might have to pay for (or a combination) so include this when you're figuring out your expenses.

If you are traveling out of your own municipality, do you require a license?  If you are traveling out of the country, have you factored in the cost of a work visa for yourself?  Add those in before setting your workshop fee.  You should also factor in a salary for yourself, so you don't end up working for free.  The minimum amount you're willing to work for is up to you, but $250/day (clear after all expenses) isn't an unreasonable expectation for a presenter and for any NEW workshop built entirely from scratch I like to use a 4:1 preparation to presentation ratio.  So 2 days of presenting + 8 days of prep = $2500.

Decide what to charge.
You've tallied up your expenses and hard costs so you already know the minimum amount you need to break even.  So let's assume your hard costs plus salary for this workshop are $5000.  If you could sell out every possible one of your 50 spots at $100 you would break even, but there would be no room to undersell the event and nothing built into the budget in the event of unexpected expenses.  One way to "break-even" finance your workshop is to assume a 50% attendance rate, with a 25% OH SHIT margin added on top.  In our example, this would equate to a minimum of 25 participants at ~$250.

There is no "correct" amount to charge but the important thing when deciding what to charge is that you don't just pull a number out of your ass - your pricing needs to cover your costs as well as reflect the experience you are offering.  Some presenters will charge $2500/participant for a one day workshop and others will charge $100; one would assume that at the $2500 workshop you'll get some pretty sweet giveaways, and that at the $100 workshop you'll be brown bagging it.

Be the student.  Again.  To plan your content.
Now that you know when and where, to how many people, and for about how much you are selling your workshop, you need to tease out the key topics of your workshop so that people will know what you are teaching.  Are you teaching camera skills?  Just posing? Business strategy? All of the above?  What should people walk away knowing at the end of each section you are teaching?  A simple way of determining this is to quickly throw together an itinerary (don't worry - the times can and will change as you go along!) and outline how much time you plan to dedicate to each area.   Think from a student's perspective what you would most like to garner from the workshop content.  If teaching pose-flow is your thing, allowing students to shoot will interrupt the flow; if you think you'd like lots of portfolio shots schedule more time for participants to shoot; if you'd prefer a little more business guidance, cut back on posing and shooting time a bit.

Sell sell sell!

Now that you know what you are selling, your job as a marketer is about to kick into high gear.  You will spend several weeks advertising your workshop.  Your job will be to find the forums or groups where your target market is spending time, place ads in papers or online, advertise in magazines or on blogs where your market is likely to frequent, etc. etc.  Striking a balance between promoting your workshop and just irritating people is a very fine line, too, so it might not be as easy as you think.  You might want to consult with a professional who can assist with where you ought to advertise, how to design a campaign, how to write copy that will attract the participants you think would benefit, etc.  You may also wish for that company or individual to look after your ticket sales/registrations so you can spend your time focussing on fine-tuning your course content.  Remember that the wording you use will affect how your workshop is perceived - selling a $1000/day workshop and telling people their instead of they're getting free cupcake's with an apostrophe is not good...

Know when to pull the chute
Sorry to spill the beans, but the dirty little secret behind early-bird pricing is that it's not because we are super nice guys and want to give everyone a chance at a wicked discount but rather to give ourselves the ability to gauge whether we need to cancel the workshop or not.  If you have not gotten to your minimum quota by the time early bird sales are done, you need to carefully evaluate why your workshop isn't selling as well as you would like.  Is there another competing workshop by a cheaper or more experienced presenter appealing to your clients?  Are you priced too high that people cannot afford it?  Are you priced too low and people think it's too cheap to be worthwhile? Have you been promoting the event or just waiting on a wing and a prayer for it to go viral?  The end date for your earlybird sales should be far enough back that you can adjust your tack and sell harder to meet your quota if you're close, or to cancel or postpone it if you are way too far from your goal.

Be the student.  Again.  To write your material.
Your course content should have a natural flow to it.  Hopefully that flow was identified when you put together your itinerary/outline, so it's just a matter of beefing it up.  Your course content should also be interesting and engaging - if the content is so boring people are apt to nod off, you need to make sure you break it up, mix it up, keep it dynamic.  Getting people up and down out of their seats, injecting lots of humour, asking for audience response are all good ways of keeping your audience engaged during the "lecture" part.  Consider things like doing an ice-breaker at the start of your workshop to kickstart participant networking, ensuring that your participants will have adequate instructions, space, and time to follow through with in-class activities, and build time for water/pee/smoke/lunch breaks into your schedule.  Design your handouts and slide presentation in a way that makes them easy to follow/relate.  Avoid being too vague with your topics - if you plan to just stand up there and make shit up on the spot because you think you know it so well, people are going to figure it out.
Check, check, and triple check.
The days leading up to your workshop, do a thorough once-over of everything you need.  Do you have your handouts printed and your swag bags stuffed?  Did you remember the cream and sugar?  Do you have the required license/permits/visa?  Is all your equipment (computers, projectors, cameras, lights, etc.) cleaned, charged, and ready to go with all the necessary cables, batteries, and cords?  Are your models and HMUAs all still coming?  Things like confirming your catering, doing a final head count, sending out a reminder to your participants about what to bring will help you ensure that you've left nothing to chance, and your day will run as smoothly as possible.

The fine print
A random collection of things you might wish to take into consideration, in no particular order:
  1. Models. When choosing your models, make sure you select ones that relate to what you are teaching - bringing in a petite model to teach techniques intended for voluptuous women, 3 homophobic males to teach couples, or someone who is shy to pose for glamour nudes isn't going to work very well.
  2. Food.  Allergies prevent some people from attending altogether - make sure you inquire and let other participants know if they should (specifically) avoid bringing peanut products - and dietary restrictions for personal reasons need to be considered if you are bringing in catering.
  3. Potty mouth.  Sure, maybe you drop the f-bomb on a regular basis, and while you're teaching a workshop on PS retouching it's probably not going to be a big deal if a few slip, but someone teaching family photography probably shouldn't be telling Mom how fucking hilarious her kid is in front of said fucking hilarious kid.
  4. Sex. At Hooters you are welcome to put boobs in people's faces, but as a presenter your personal conduct should always be clean and professional.  It's always best to avoid sexual innuendo lest your humping of the furniture be taken out of context and reflect negatively on you  or worse, result in legal action if it is misconstrued as predatory.  This applies regardless of your gender and sexual orientation.
  5. Competition.  Some photographers like to restrict the participants to those who live a minimum distance from proximity of their own city or area.  This is to avoid training their own competitors and reducing the risk of losing clients to them, though honestly chances are good that if you don't teach them someone else will and would still steal your clients, so you may as well take your neighbour's money, too, no?

Be the teacher.
(yeah, that's all I got - I have to assume you know your shit well enough and have all the necessary credentials, experience, and applied knowledge to teach it so you're on your own here...)

Be the student.  One last time.
Learn from your students how to be an awesome teacher!  Once you have completed the workshop, it is REALLY important to follow up.  Have a "how did I do?" card in the swag bag or provide a link to an anonymous online survey they can do at home after the workshop.  As much as it might terrify you, without this feedback it will be impossible for you to know what you did well and what you can improve on.  Ask questions from your perspective if you were a student like, was it worth the money?  Was the content well organized?  What can we improve on? That sort of information is pure GOLD for when/if you decide to teach again as it will give you precise instructions on how to fine tune your workshop to meet or exceed expectations next time.  And if you get nothing but glowing reviews, then you know you've got it right!

I am sure I've forgotten a million things, but this should at the very least give you a running start.  Now go share your unique perspective and knowledge with the world!

popularity contest

Alright, photogs.  Today's post is actually about you pulling the wool over your clients' eyes.  Whether you are a business to business (B2B) or a business to client (B2C) company, you might be lying to your client.  Whether you are aware of it and doing it on purpose or have never considered it, I'm here with a little media literacy lesson to help you make your credentials rock solid.

In a society that is increasingly granting greater and greater privilege, prestige, and credibility to people who have really done little more than become famous, it's interesting to examine how this has a trickle-down effect into our psyche and more importantly, into our spending habits.  We're a society that is trained to consume smoke and mirrors more than substance, a tact which large companies spend millions on marketing development, but even a layman can employ with little to no effort or money.  In the age of "reality TV" (known as unscripted drama or simply "cheap labour" in the entertainment industry) where everyone is brainwashed into believing anyone can be and deserves to be famous, we are being taught as retailers how to mimic the cheapest form of advertising known to man: being the biggest bullshitter on the block.

Like it or not, winning the proverbial popularity contest these days can, in fact, translate to money if the game is played well.  While not everyone wants to drop a sex tape on the scene to kickstart their career as a famous person, it's certainly cheaper than paying for a marketer to whip up a proper campaign.  The real question lies with whether you, as the person selling yourself, feel that your value to your clients has actually increased as a result of having the most likes on Facebook or if you're basically looking to get paid for being a Kardashian.  Becoming buzzworthy has become the gold standard for turning a quick buck rather than striving to become a trusted brand.  Our collective fascination with celebrity is unfortunate because it hinders our ability to recognize much less find responsible corporations who found their business on ethics, support fair trade, pride themselves on providing quality service, etc.

While every once in a while you might get screwed trying the restaurant that got voted the city's "best new dinner menu" it's actually pretty easy to tell if you're about to be hooped into the hype when you have the tools to read between the lines.  I want you, the seller, to stop looking at your clients as cash-pots and practice viewing your sales pitch from your customer's perspective.  I'm going to use Dove, a company that many women deem "trustworthy" due to their recent viral video successes for our case study, as it is a perfect example of how things are not always be what they seem when clever minds set out to dupe develop their consumers.

Dove has a long history of selling you something while claiming they are not selling what they are selling, beginning with calling their soap a cleansing bar, not soap, that moisturizes, not cleans.   Dove has since become very successful with its "real women" campaigns, selling beauty products that shun the beauty industry.  Between its humble beginning as the bar that creams while it cleans and the sketch artist bit it released on April 14th of this year, lots of women feel like these ads really resonate with them, but there's lots going on here.  Let's watch a commercial from 1986.

"Marte" is not a celebrity.  In fact, she's just some average everyday lady, like the other just some average everyday lady types, who were featured in these "why I use Dove" ads from the 80s.  While many of them featured cute normal and boring stories from just some average everyday lady telling about why she uses Dove or the positive feedback she has received as a result, this one actually features a double-whammy - Marte's endorsement, backed up by a claim that "More dermatologists recommend Dove than any other soap."

The messages the viewer has very thoughtfully been given are: this is an average woman, a woman like me, who pushes around a shopping cart, who buys Dove and more dermatologists recommend it than any other soap... and it's not even soap, it's moisturizer... Pretty great, right?  Whoa.  Back the truck up. You've been lulled into trusting this brand.  Before you start thinking how great Dove is, remember:

1) Actresses are paid, and even if this was from one of Dove's casting calls for "regular" ladies, she was not a random participant.  She was paid somehow to say what she said.
2) "Recommended by more dermatologists than any other soap" is a fancy way of saying Dove is recommended 4% of the time and no other soap is recommended more than 3.99% of the time.  The point they haven't bothered making is that 96% of the time anything else BUT Dove is recommended.
3) Dove is soap.  It is soap sold to women.  If you have boobs and are not built like a supermodel, you are their target market.

You could say the same about the current Dove sketch artist commercial.  The participants responded to a casting call. They are not random participants.  The sketch artist is the equivalent "expert" to the dermatologist.  And Dove wants you, a woman, who isn't a supermodel, to buy their not-soap.

Now, I am not saying that Dove is a bad company or anything and frankly regardless of the motivation,  I absolutely LOVE the messages they are putting out there for girls and women.  But not for a second do I lose sight of the fact they are selling me stuff, period.  And, they are but one small company in a larger conglomerate (Unilever) that also sells SlimFast and Axe body spray, and they will tell you (the target market) whatever you want to hear (in this case that guys will get laid more if they use Axe) to make you buy their products by exploiting exactly the type of hegemony they shun in the Dove commercials.

Sneaky, right?  I know.  Now that I've peaked your cynicism, let's move forward, shall we?


Obviously, as a photographer, you aren't subjecting your clients to *quite* this type of marketing, but some of you might have an inkling that something is off either when reviewing someone else's credentials or perhaps your own... and not quite be able to put your finger on why it feels "dishonest."

The Myth of a Membership
A lot of photographers like to slap the logos for different photography organizations they belong to up on their blogs and websites.  Unlike a professional designation, which requires some sort of testing, anyone can become just your run of the mill paid member of any one of a number of "professional" organizations including the PPOC, WPPI, NAPCP, and more.  Unless you've applied for and been granted certification, all the badge on your site says is that you paid your dues this year.  Not sure about that? As a paid member who is currently registered as a "dogtographer" with a major international organization, I assure you they don't check applicants out before approving them.

The Myth of the People's Choice Award
Possessing a "People's Choice" award seems to lend a certain type of credibility but frankly it's bogus. When you put this on your website and call yourself "award-winning" you're right up over there with Barbara Walters telling the Kardashians they are famous for being famous.  You'll often see things like, "Voted best new restaurant!"or "People's choice for best chiropractor!" and y'all gotta know it's a ruse - the people running enter themselves or are entered by a third party with a vested financial or personal interest.  There is little if anything that is organic or authentic about it whatsoever.

If you're in the wedding industry, chances are good you've seen some of your friends begging for you to go vote for them at the Wedding Industry Experts site.  Since you are only taken to their personal voting page which contains no relevant information, I've taken the liberty of digging around and bit.  Here's the first thing you need to know: there is no pre-qualification and no verification of skills, background, or experience.  They also don't look into the quality of service, products, or any of those other things that might actually lend themselves to determining any kind of expertise or credibility.  Even the peer-reviewed "expert" designation is self-entry, not juried by other "experts" in the industry but endorsed by your other "friends" in the industry.  Some of the entrants in some of the categories don't actually have anything to do with weddings but just wanted in the race - do you really think people should value a company advertising that it was voted "best wedding studio" when that company's focus is on boudoir?  I actually suggested a newborn photographer I know should make up a new category called "Best Proof of Consummating a Marriage" so she wouldn't feel left out.  Also, it doesn't factor out any entrants who are in categories with no competitors.  What kind of hollow victory is THAT?

(Ditto for winning an award for photography when it is the result of you entering your image into a "vote for my photo" contest, by the way...)

The Myth Behind Feature Articles
Let's just be honest here - except in extremely rare cases, telling people you have been invited to submit to an online magazine is a bit like telling people you've been invited to the grant opening of Target Canada.

In much the same way that a people's choice award isn't organic, getting published in wedding magazines isn't a random thing either.  Wedding blogs include instructions on how to submit your images for publication and a large portion of the content is from "styled" shoots by vendors and suppliers who want to sell their shit to brides, not from actual weddings.  Blogs like Pictage's The Photo Life accept unsolicited feature articles and editorials that they do not fact check (or spell-check or grammar check) but publish as-is and you, as the person submitting, will never know if they genuinely liked your work or article or if they just had a slow week and wanted some filler.  The point is, there are no credentials granted after having an article accepted for publication beyond proving that you have succeeded in ruthless self-promotion.


None of these tactics are inherently or in and of themselves "bad" and it's not wrong to want to make enough money (enough is a different amount for everyone by the way).  And if it's your true aspiration to be famous, play the game well enough and you, too, can be a rock star photographer.  I'm not judging anyone's personal goals here.  Hopefully, though, you have better understanding of how critical thinking can help you read between the lines of what advertisers are selling YOU, and more importantly realize that people are going to read between yours, too.  If you are the type to say there are a tonne of people dumb enough to not care and all the better for me and my pocketbook, I say, knock yourself out - you will find plenty of people happy to pay for your fame.  More likely, though, if you're like most people (even the ones who openly admit they *do* want money and kinda like the attention that comes with fame) you will probably say, "But I'd like my clients to see that I actually DO value them and take pride in my craft..."

My best advice?  Let go of trying to give people the "appearance" of something, and adopt a policy of just being 100% transparent.  Be the polished turd, if you will.  It 's not a bad thing to have a people's choice badge or get featured in a magazine and the outpouring of love will probably feel pretty great, but once people get past the smoke and mirrors, you want to make sure you have some substance to offer.  Below I've included some ways you can build credentials that extend well beyond popularity and luck.

1) NUMBER ONE... Numero UNO... first and foremost.... Provide superior knowledge and expertise, only deliver excellent products, and strive to provide top notch customer service.  Shoot shoot and shoot some more.  Become a master in your own right and let your work speak for itself.  If you relied 100% on word-of-mouth referals and never advertised to a single person or gained a second much less 15 minutes of fame, this recipe would ensure that no one could knock your company.  There are hundreds of successful entrepreneurs out there who fly completely under the radar because they don't have to advertise - business consistently comes to them because their positive reputation precedes them.  You want to be THAT company.

and... if you want to flaunt it:

2) Enter reputable peer-juried competitions.  Unlike "popularity" type contests where there is no formal process for granting merit to the quality of your work and quantity might easily mean you did a groupon and got 500 new clients, placing in a contest with a proper peer review process certainly says a lot more about you as an artist.  And yes, some of these contests are going to appear to be rigged and it's all still subjective anyways, but generally speaking you stand a much greater chance of being awarded merit based on the quality of your work this way than when you win based strictly on the number of friends you have who were diligent in voting every day.

3) Consider professional designation.  While many of us don't have formal schooling, you might want to consider something like working towards obtaining Master of Photographic Arts (MPA) through the PPOC, the only Canadian company that can get you credentials in Canada.  There is a submission process requiring you to successfully meet industry standards for quality, clarity, etc.  Again, while there is some level of subjectivity in the jury process, it will still hold a little more clout than bragging your new group got 500 likes on Facebook.  (Of course your Grampa liking your FB page counts, just not in a credible way like if your Grampa is Ansel Adams...)

4) Avoid recruiting testimonials on your interactive pages.  It's one thing to publish testimonials on your static webpage.  It's something entirely different for a client to spontaneously tweet a love note or randomly rave about you on your Facebook page or put a lengthy compliment on your blog post.  And to actively solicit or request them just look desperate.  While testimonials might happen in clumps, especially after an event or function, suddenly having a substantially huge number of people all rave about you on the same day is going to look obvious.  Every time I stumble across this, I cannot help but giggle.  At least get people to wait a day or two between testimonials if it's not going to be organic...

5) Boast the workshops you've taken or taught.  Education, whether formal or peer-to-peer, is professional development.  Taking workshops and classes shows a dedication on your part to bettering yourself, which will in turn expand your skill set and give you more tools to serve your clients with.  If you are teaching, this demonstrates that you have the level of expertise that others find appealing.  Either way, incorporating a commitment to lifelong learning into your business model is smart and gives people confidence in your company to be dynamic and up to date.


I've said for years that I will never win any popularity contests.  I simply lack desire to be judged on how well I am known, by how many I am known, or how well I am liked.  The lucky thing about this refusal of a popularity-based system is that it's a two-way street.  I am not a social climber and have no interest on stepping on you, nor do I have anything to offer you as a means of a stepping stone on your way past and above me.  Though I have, on occasion, been more than happy to slingshot people past me and watch them soar, because as a pedagogue at heart I find that more rewarding than anything.

Obviously I could explore a million more avenues with this but I think I've made my point perfectly clear.  Whether you are a buyer or seller in the current market place, understanding how things are encoded and expected to be decoded will grant you some insight on what's written between the lines.  What you want customers to read between YOUR lines is up to you.  Now, shut up and shoot.